Only in a few months we will likely know, whether the bull market that started in mid-2009 really ended in the summer of 2015. What we know, however, is that the headwinds that have emerged in recent months will not recede anytime soon. Another challenging quarter, it seems, lies ahead of equity investors.
The beginning of Q4 is the time for an outlook on the coming year. At first we want to establish the determining factors for the economic activity and the markets. On this basis, we will introduce three scenarios.
Dr. Strangelove is one of my favourite films. Pure genius, all the way through! In one of the bizarre scenes that illustrate the madness of the nuclear threat, the manic Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (nomen est omen) explains to Captain mandrake, played by Peter Sellers, why he has just triggered a nuclear war and thus the end of the world: the Soviet Union are trying to destroy the West by contaminating the water.
The current refugee crisis is immense. Estimates expect more than a million people to apply for asylum this year in the European Union; i.e. we are talking about 0.2% in terms of total population. This would suggest that the immigration can be handled if all the countries cooperate.
Volkswagen: the largest German car manufacturer. The Porsches: the wealthiest family of Austria. Ferdinand Porsche, the engineering genius who would build the cars that ultimately dominated the German autobahn after Hitler’s war. VW is a part of (industrial) history.
But recently, Volkswagen has also written a different sort of history: do you remember José Ignacio López de Arriortúa, who was accused of having misappropriated trade secrets when he left his post as Head of Purchasing with VW and took a position with GM, and who was also the eponym of the López effect? Do you remember the sex scandal where prostitutes had been paid for and flown in from Brazil by the company specifically to “convince” the shop stewards committee of the proposals put forth by management? Do you remember the takeover battle between Porsche and VW and the rollercoaster ride it caused on the stock exchange? Do you remember the headlines about the fight for power between the Supervisory Board president Piech and the CEO Winterkorn. A multi-billion euro company with hundreds of thousands of employees had been temporarily reduced to the pawn of two alpha males.
Interest rate decision by the Fed
Tomorrow, Thursday 17 September 2015, the federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the US central bank Fed will be taking an important decision. Is the Fed funds rate to be raised or not? The financial markets have accorded this decision a particularly important role. After all, the rate hike by the most important central bank in the world could cause the degree of instability on the financial market to continue rising.
Regardless of whether or not a rate hike materialises, the Fed will communicate that the interest rate cycle will only be set off very gradually. At the same time, the projection for the final level of the cycle will probably be taken down a bit. If the Fed managed to alleviate the worries of excessive rate hikes, a slight increase of the Fed funds rate on coming Thursday would not upset the financial markets in any sustainable fashion. However, the weakest segments in the emerging countries would come under pressure.
Earlier this year the president of the ECB said we would have to get used to elevated levels of volatility. And it is true, the market environment has changed. The years 2009 to 2014 were subject to an asset price reflation regime. High rates of return were coupled with low volatility. This relationship has now reversed. The asset classes are now pricing in the moderate recovery in the industrialised economies, with low expected return amid elevated fluctuation as a rule.
We are almost approaching the end of the summer but it looks like we are back to April 2015 in Turkey. The election outcome and aftermath did not work as politicians had desired and the efforts to form a government have failed so far.
Equities, bonds affected by default risk, commodities, and emerging markets currencies are currently subject to corrections, which, noticeably, have now gone beyond the purview of emerging markets: while the emerging markets equity index declined by almost 6% (Performance-Data Source: Bloomberg, MSCI) last week, the index for developed markets lost 5.3% (Performance-Data Source: Bloomberg, MSCI). The fear that the economic weakening in the emerging markets might come with significant spill-over effects for the industrialised countries has increased. This prompts the question whether a phase of profound corrections is upon us in the risky asset classes. The question alone has caused the risk aversion of investors to rise. The liquidity is temporarily parked in safe havens such as US Treasury bonds, the euro, and the Japanese yen.
Gerold Permoser, Chief Sustainable Investment Officer at Erste Asset Management, finds a perfectly clear answer to this: When investors communicate with companies (both investable and not), this dialogue will lead to improvements. The publicity that might follow does not harm, either.